My Bipolar Life
If you were to meet me in person on a ‘good’ day, you wouldn’t guess I suffer from a mental illness. I’m outgoing, happy to have a chat and laugh often. You wouldn’t pick me out of a room full of people and think “Geez, that chick is C-R-A-Z-Y.” Crazy is a stigmatising word, but I’m using it here to make this exact point. People with a mental illness are not crazy and shouldn’t be called crazy. Ever. They have a medical condition requiring management – just like someone with diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma. The person will never be ‘cured,’ and untreated it can be life threatening. It requires ongoing medical assistance and a support network to stay well.
I have been my personal experiences with mental illness on this blog, from Depression to Psychiatric hospital, where I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type 2. I do this to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and to provide support for fellow sufferers. I suffered for too many years alone, misdiagnosed and misunderstood.
If you Google Bipolar Disorder, you will find it defined as a mood disorder where sufferers experience mania (or hypomania) alternating with periods of depression. In the real world, everyone is individual in how they experience a mood episode and in what symptoms they exhibit. Some people experience mania with no depression, usually Bipolar Type 1 sufferers. Depression is predominant in Bipolar Type 2, punctuated with hypomania. Hypomania is ‘a little mania’ and can be mild enough to make diagnosis difficult. Someone could be upbeat, start overspending or be overtly sexual. They may experience intense irritability and feel like telling the whole world to eff off. In Bipolar Type 2, hypomania is usually short-lived and much less frequent than the depressive symptoms. Depression is the main reason people seek treatment.
Like many, I was misdiagnosed as having recurrent depression and an anxiety disorder. It has taken over ten years to get a correct diagnosis (which alarmingly is a average for most BP2 sufferers) and during this time the course of my illness has progressively worsened. This was in part from taking anti-depressants. Anti-depressants can make Bipolar Disorder worse if they aren’t taken with a mood stabiliser. My condition has been unstable for the past couple of years and I have now been labelled as having a ‘severe psychiatric illness’. Hmmm, awesome. Thank you previous Doctors.
Although I may look and sound just like you, I long for a normal life. I wouldn’t have to wonder every day when I wake up if the mood is changing again. Supermarket shopping wouldn’t be terrifying and going out without knowing where all the toilets are would be fine. I wouldn’t incessantly worry or be a prisoner to my various mood states. Sometimes I wonder if I am too broken to be fixed. Glimpses of normality torment me and then slip away, just out of reach. My mood becomes a bubbling pot of anxiety, where nowhere is safe and nothing brings comfort. My body defies attempts to control the pounding heart and shaking limbs and I tremble to the point of physical pain.
The anxiety leads to depression for me, although a psychiatrist told me it is not a separate condition and is part of the depressive phase of Bipolar. Anxiety and depression are both debilitating, just in different ways. Depression brings lethargy and is like having the flu. I crave carbs, put on weight and lose all motivation for life. I just want to sleep or die. The smallest of tasks is difficult, even brushing my teeth and showering. I can’t make decisions or deal with the day-to-day. I don’t enjoy anything and just want the pain to end. This phase can last for weeks or months.
Before or after the depression (I’m not really sure which way around it happens anymore) I suffer from hypomania. People think this is always an ‘up’ mood in the sense of euphoria or excessive happiness. In hindsight, I may have had this version of hypomania, but more often than not, it is uncomfortable and disturbing. I get creative ideas and passionate about projects, which sounds good right? The problem is I become obsessive about them to the point of ignoring everything else. I get extremely irritable and battle to not act out towards my loved ones. My thoughts race and am too easily distracted to be productive. My sleep is severely disturbed. Normal environments, such as shopping centres, become over-stimulating. Colours are brighter and sounds are louder. People seem threatening. It is as debilitating as the anxiety/depression phase, it is just different. Day-to-day life becomes unmanageable because I am too scattered, angry or distressed to function properly.
The Doctor said I have a sub-type of Bipolar called Rapid Cycling, which means I experience four or more mood episodes in a year. This makes planning impossible because I never know in advance if I am going to be well enough to do something. If I do make plans, I try to have an out and don’t pin my hopes on a happy outcome. It is too disappointing. My friendships have suffered from me missing so many events. It is hard for people to understand why you haven’t kept in touch. When unwell, I cling to home and don’t even feel safe there. My world is a nightmare and I want to get off.
I have enough insight into my illness to know what is normal – what it looks like and what it feels like. It is a strange feeling when you know the moods you are experiencing are not normal. I told a psychiatrist once that I felt like I was going ‘mad’ but surely if I was I wouldn’t be aware. He said “Oh no, people can be quite aware they are going mad.”
I am medicated with a combination of mood-stabilisers to reduce the frequency and severity of episodes. The medication is not a cure-all and I am still trying to stabilise after years of mistreatment. I see a psychiatrist and a psychologist. I am slowly moving towards a more normal life and working on my writing. I know I am one of the lucky ones having a loving partner, family support and good medical care. I just hope that someday I can get back to the place where normal lives, and be allowed to stay for a while.
Do you or a loved one suffer from a mental illness?
If you need urgent assistance and are in Australia, please call Lifeline 13 11 14 or dial 000.
For more information on Depression and Bipolar Disorder go to www.blackdoginstitute.org.au and www.beyondblue.org.au. Visit a Doctor if you or a loved one have symptoms of anxiety, depression or mania.
If overseas, please call your local emergency number, mental health helpline or visit your Doctor.
Posted on September 5, 2013, in Mental Health and tagged antidepressants, anxiety, bipolar, bipolar disorder, depression, disability, hypomania, medication, mental illness, mental-health, mood disorder, normal, psychiatric hospital, rapid cycling. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.